Uslter relish big kick-off
Mark Anscombe's approach to Saturday's date with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road will be different to last Friday night's opener against Leinster.
Having just lowered the RaboDirect PRO12 champions' colours, next up for Ulster are last term's Aviva Premiership winners.
And while Anscombe insisted that the outcome of Saturday afternoon's friendly in the east Midlands (3pm) will have no influence on what happens when the sides clash at Ravenhill in the opening round of the Heineken Cup on October 11, the fact that it is Ulster's last work-out before the start of the season clearly adds an edge .
Against Leinster he gave 29 players a run. This time the number getting game-time will not be as big as that.
"We won't do quite as much (changing) against them (Leicester). There are a few who played (against Leinster) who won't travel.
"We need to give some guys a bit more than 40 minutes because they're going to have to do that the following week," Anscombe said.
And while the modern-day mantra trotted out by players and coaches worldwide is that the next game is the only one that matters, Anscombe's follow-up comment made it quite plain that he is looking beyond Welford Road towards Rodney Parade where, tomorrow week, Ulster face Newport Gwent Dragons in the PRO12 curtain-raiser.
"We'll be looking at roughly an idea for Dragons. We'll make changes, but not to the extent we did against Leinster," he said.
The fact that Luke Marshall got a post-interval run following his traumatic time with concussions in three successive matches last season was a plus.
"He's a fine player; we saw that last season when he had three Test matches for Ireland so we know he's a good young prospect," Anscombe said.
"Unfortunately his season didn't finish the way he would have liked, but he's back. He has trained hard and there have been no repercussions."
But fast-progressing Stuart Olding's availability for round two at home to Glasgow Warriors on September 13 will leave the coach having to make a tough call at 12.
"There's Chris Farrell as well," he pointed out.
"So we've got some tough decisions to make.
"But we'll see what happens – that's a few weeks away and our motto this year is about looking after the week ahead of us rather than looking beyond that."
All being well, round four should see all but Ruan Pienaar – currently on international duty with South Africa – and still-injured Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace back in action for Ulster.
And while neither Ferris nor Wallace will be ready to face Leicester in October when it matters, Pienaar will be back just ahead of that eagerly-awaited clash.
With Saturday being a pre-season run-out, winning, losing or – as was the case when Ulster and Leicester met at this time last year – drawing (14-14) is neither here nor there for Anscombe. As far as the straight-talking New Zealander is concerned, Saturday's game is just a warm-up, nothing more.
The outcome on August 31 certainly won't have any bearing on what happens on October 11, he insisted.
"The Heineken Cup game is seven weeks away. This one is a pre-season game. Different teams, totally different intensity so there's no comparison," he said.
"If either side gets caught up in what happens in that and starts believing that will influence what happens in a Heineken Cup game, I think they'll be fooling themselves."
A winning partnership
Ulster have teamed up with Cancer Research UK for the 2013-14 season by undertaking to promote the charity's vital work in the province.
Four match day collections will be held at Ravenhill and four fund-raising events will be staged during the season.
Yesterday, Ulster captain, Johann Muller, and squad members visited the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen's University, where they witnessed some of the work the charity funds. As well as meeting medical research staff they heard about the ground-breaking work being carried out.
The Ulster skipper said: "We would all like to kick cancer into touch, therefore I am delighted that we are partnering with Cancer Research UK and joining with the charity in the fight against this terrible disease.
"I know that all the players, staff and fans of Ulster Rugby will get behind the partnership and that together we will make a significant contribution to this great cause."
John Robinson, President of Ulster Rugby, said: "Ulster Rugby is totally committed to this partnership as we feel it is very important to contribute as fully as we can to this charity which strives to overcome this awful disease that affects so many people in Ulster and further afield."
Ryan McClintock, Cancer Research UK's regional fund-raising manager, said: "We are very excited about the prospect of working with Ulster Rugby and are delighted to be their partner for 2013-14."
Every hour in Northern Ireland, someone is diagnosed as having cancer. Cancer Research UK is the only charity to research all 200 forms of cancer, but receives no Government funding, meaning every step taken towards beating cancer relies solely on donations.